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Adrian Dominican Sisters Use Permaculture to Restore Land

Adrian Dominican Sr. Carol Coston walks through the community's permaculture site which strives for the harmonious integration of human dwellings, microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water into stable, harmonious practices. Image Courtesy of Adrian Dominicans

Over at least the last 100 years, the business of agriculture has changed drastically. It used to be that communities relied upon the food production of small, family-run farms, but technological advancements in agriculture have resulted in the growth of massive commercial farms that produce single crops, rely on pesticides and fertilizers to artificially replenish the soil’s nutrients, and can actually do harm to our natural ecosystem. 

There are many communities and organizations working to reduce or reverse the harm we often unknowingly inflict on our environment through our agricultural practices. The Adrian Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan are committed to doing their part to protect the integrity of creation. The Sisters provide resources to locals on how to live a more sustainable life and work actively on their own property to restore the land. One such effort is the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Permaculture Garden.

What Is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a term coined by Bill Mollison and strives to work with nature, not against it, to create “agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.” These efforts strive to care for the Earth and the people on the Earth in ways that are sustainable and good for both.

The principles of permaculture offer a way to provide for all of the needs of humanity while simultaneously benefiting instead of harming our natural environment. It is a holistic approach to living a sustainable life that takes into consideration our soil use, native plants, animals, energy production, water usage, and more to design systems that can work for humans and the planet.

The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Permaculture Garden

The Adrian Dominican Sisters welcome guests to help harvest ready to eat, organic peppers. Adrian Dominican Sisters Facebook.

As part of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, the Permaculture Garden is a seven-acre plot of land that is an evolving demonstration of the opportunities and possibilities permaculture offers. The property began as mowed turf and pavement. Today, the grass has been allowed to return to meadow and the asphalt has been recycled to make paths. 

The garden is a space to tend to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ commitment to build “an abundant, diverse, and healthy ecological system guided by the permaculture ethics of Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share.” This means tending to the health of the soil, managing water collection onsite, planting perennials, increasing biodiversity, and creating sacred space for people to reflect and meditate on the beauty of God’s creation.

The Permaculture Garden uses soil carbon sequestering practices such as vermicomposting (using worms to break down waste), sheet mulching, hugel mounds, and windrow composting to break down their campus’ food scraps into rich compost. 

The Sisters have built berms and swales, created rain gardens, and used rain collection barrels to manage water on their campus. These practices rehydrate the soil and filter stormwater runoff, reducing or eliminating the need for irrigation, even in the midst of intense droughts.

The contemplative area of the garden is filled with perennials that appeal to pollinators and intentionally planted to attract a diversity of species—including people! Sisters, coworkers, and college students are invited to tend the soil and nurture their souls, no matter what their level of gardening expertise.

Resources for Sustainable Living

In addition to the hands-on work of their garden and campus, the Sisters are dedicated to educating and promoting the cause of creation care in their community. They welcome guests to garden demonstrations and offer a wide variety of learning resources on their website. You can learn about the lifecycle of a disposable cup and how to reuse cardboard, calculate your water footprint, discover your watershed, explore a range of environmental issues, find practical lifestyle and gardening tips, and more. Their website also offers a series of short but informative videos on specific permaculture practices the Sisters are employing on their campus.

Looking to the Future

Permaculture is an ever-evolving and attentive design practice that takes the same work of the scientific process, testing hypotheses, analyzing results, and making changes based on that information over and over again. As such, the Sisters do not intend to stop with the garden but to expand their efforts and continue doing the good work that they’ve been called to.

Their future goals for the garden include expanding food production so that the garden provides 5-10% of the Sisters’ calories onsite. They are also exploring and implementing ways to extend the growing season, investigating climate-resilient crops for their region in Michigan. With their successful seven-acre Permaculture Garden in place, the Sisters plan to begin prairie restoration and reforestation efforts across the rest of their campus.
The Sisters believe that permaculture practices align with their guiding principles, to seek truth, make peace, and reverence life. You can follow their activities and learn more about the Permaculture Garden by visiting their website or following their Instagram account, @permaculture_ads.

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